Runestad Detroit News Column: Prosecute financial exploitation of elderly

Runestad Detroit News Column: Prosecute financial exploitation of elderly

It’s estimated that elder abuse goes unreported in as many as 85 percent of cases, and financial exploitation of elder adults may go unreported in as many as 95 percent of cases. But state enforcement initiatives are bringing greater attention to the problem.

Several organized schemes target older adults in our state. Conmen will attend funerals and glean information from obituaries to generate false reports of debt. Corrupt financial advisers may routinely encourage the purchase of specific annuities that generate considerable commissions for the adviser, preying on only their elderly clientele. Charitable giving, telemarketing and internet fraud schemes abound.

The main perpetrators of financial abuse against the elderly are relatives of the elderly person or someone they hold in their confidence. While these cases are usually isolated to one victim, crimes perpetuated by professionals may escalate into patterns of deceit and exploitation.

Predators may gain a victim’s confidence by feigning family connections as someone they can trust. They prey on older people who are lonely, isolated, uninformed, disabled, trusting or grieving. A predator will look for a victim who is unlikely to become aware of the crime, does not have the health or resources to report the crime, or is someone they can shame and control.

In the last year alone, insurance agents, financial advisers, caretakers and health professionals were all convicted in fraud schemes against their elderly clients in our state. Several received felony convictions, owing restitution to the victim. However, many more victims may have been left uncompensated when they weren’t aware of the deceit.

As recommended by the National Association of Attorneys General, Michigan took direct steps over the last eight years to identify and prosecute elder abuse.

In May 2018, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette expanded the attorney general’s Criminal Division, creating a separate division to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.

Financial abuse of an elder adult is currently prosecuted under the Michigan penal code and rises to the level of a felony when it can be proven that more than $1,000 was obtained fraudulently.

I have introduced Senate Bill 56, which amends the racketeering statute. The bill will make investigations of elder financial racketeering possible when a financial scam against vulnerable adults is perpetrated by an organized group or over a period of time.

SB 56 will help to further educate and prevent financial crimes against the elderly.

State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 15th District. This column appeared in the Jan. 30 edition of the Detroit News.

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